People who worry about human-caused climate change are willing to pay higher energy bills to help stop it, but only up to 5 percent higher, or about $5 on the average American energy bill, according to a Harvard political scientist who has conducted a comprehensive survey of attitudes toward energy and climate for the last 12 years.
Global warming is a huge problem for humanity that is foreseeable and possibly preventable, which makes it an excellent public policy problem to work on, “and a depressing one at the same time,” Harvard Government Professor Stephen Ansolabehere said during a December appearance at the University of Chicago.
“People are not willing to really put their dollars—even people who say they are concerned about global warming—are not willing to put their dollars where their hearts are,” Ansolabehere told a gathering of climate scientists, physicists, economists and public-policy experts at The Energy Policy Institute of Chicago (EPIC). The Institute’s director, economist Michael Greenstone, introduced Ansolabehere as “the leading energy political scientist in the world.”
The finding has implications for policy makers, Ansolabehere said, because it shows they do not have political support for measures that would incur higher costs, at least when climate change is offered as the benefit.
“You can’t sell a 25 percent surcharge on your energy bill,” he said. “You might be able to sell 6 percent or 5 percent.”
The EPA estimates its proposed Clean Power Plan will raise energy bills slightly at first—up to 2 percent—but result in lower costs over time because of increased efficiency and reduced demand (pdf).
However, Americans support EPA regulation even if it results in higher costs, Ansolabehere found, because they associate EPA regulation with local benefits, such as cleaner air and improved health, and not merely with global climate change.
After surveying Americans, Ansolabehere posed the same question to energy consumers in other developed countries, asking how much more they would be willing to pay on electricity bills if it reduced greenhouse gas emissions by various percentages.
“And we took that on the road, asked that survey in a lot of different countries around the world. It’s a depressingly small number—5 percent—about $5 on your electric bill, and it’s the same in the U.S., same in Sweden, same in France, same in Germany, same in Japan, same in Canada, et cetera.”
Ansolabehere and Georgetown public policy professor David M. Konisky detail these findings and more in a recent book, “Cheap and Clean: How Americans Think About Energy in the Age of Global Warming” published by MIT Press. Among their other findings:
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